Sunday, 10 November 2013

ALF #20: "Gold And Love Affairs!"

(Sometimes it's hard to not be a woman)


We seem, at last, to have followed the downward spiral into outright self-parody.  Which afflicts a great many ongoing stories, of course, some of them much better than this. In this case, it seems to be a descent into hitherto undreamed of levels of sexist bilge, which means it's not merely unenjoyable, but hard to laugh at, too.  Really, anger seems like the only appropriate response.

Let's start with the B-plot here, since that continues the story from the last two issues. After their jaunt to the past, Alpha Flight finally have themselves some time to discuss what's happened and decide on what to do next.  Unfortunately, what Snowbird and Shaman want to do most is bicker over who and what Shaman's daughter is and represents. They do this in front of Talisman, ignoring her entirely. When she calls them on this, pointing out she has no interest in being part of some hinky prophecy, her attempts to remove the tiara that started this whole business leaves her in agonising pain.  The tiara can't be taken off!

Whereupon Shaman says "I wish there had been more time to inform you of what you faced".  Let's just stop here, for a little while, and absorb the full horror of this.  Shaman knew that his daughter - a daughter he had just been reunited with that day after a decade and a half of estrangement - wouldn't be able to return to her normal life - the life she chose - and would instead have to remain forever in the mystical world he is part of, and he didn't tell her because there wasn't time?  There aren't enough fields in Texas for the amount of bullshit I'm calling on that. Their visit to the past accomplished nothing beyond filling in gaps for the curious. Shaman explicitly states they had to ensure they didn't change anything, making the whole jaunt an intelligence gathering trip.  This is supposed to have been so important there was no time to tell his daughter about what she was letting herself in for? Is there any more stupid insistence than we must time-travel to the past immediately? Fuck, as they say, that noise.

It's very difficult to get past all this. A father decides his daughter's entire future, knowing full well it cannot be changed, and goes ahead with it without letting his daughter make an informed choice because he can't wait to get to his own shit? That's obscene. But does Elizabeth object to or even note any of this? Dear reader, she does not.

But Shaman isn't finished with his patriarchal shit-show just yet. He's noticed Puck making eyes at Heather as she slowly begins to rebuild her life after her husband's death. This, he concludes, cannot be allowed to go on without comment. Once Heather leaves to try and get hold of Walter Langkowski over living arrangements, Shaman corners Puck in the kitchen. There, he informs him he knows Puck's feelings, suspects Heather might one day feel the same way, and tells him to make sure when Heather "needs someone again", he makes sure he gives everything to make sure she's OK.

Looked at from some angles, this might not seem too bad. We can dispense with the "all this proves Shaman is sexist, not the story" argument straight away, of course - if a story keeps hitting the same beat and nothing is provided as push-back, the specific source of those beats is irrelevant - but one can take the position that a guy discussing with his friend how to best handle his feelings for a devastated widow is completely reasonable.

As an isolated incident, that might even work out. Shaman's advice is unsolicited, but other than that, I've had plenty of conversations with friends of both sexes that run along roughly similar lines. Coming just two pages after we learn what Shaman has allowed to happen to his own daughter, I'm far less prepared to be forgiving, particular since his meddling is taking place in a comic that repeatedly suggests that women are all just crazy, broken and emotionally unavailable in different ratios, and it's simply a man's job to suffer through the resulting storms.

Look. I'm not going to pretend I don't get it.  As a younger man, I was found women in a mess to be attractive - of course in retrospect,  they all just happened to be physically attractive as well; how surprising - so I can't claim complete innocence. And it's certainly true that if you're going to write melodrama, there's a damn good chance any given pairing is going to involve a lot of navigating emotional baggage. It'd be nice if the way fiction tends to portray a man's baggage so very differently to that of a woman, but that's a much broader problem that I'm not inclined to heap on Byrne in 1985, not when there's so much bigger problems here.

The real complaint here is that this shtick has become pathological.  Moving to the A plot, we see exactly the same concept being played out; messing with Aurora's power set (which, remember, Sasquatch did whilst not telling her what he was doing, and with no idea as to whether his meddling could be reversed; sound familiar?) is causing her unexpected problems.  Specifically, she's complaining all the time and making out with other men in front of Sasquatch, "for fun", all whilst wearing an utterly ridiculous costume.

Super-speed presumably comes in handy
during extended bikini-wax sessions
While all of this is going on, Walter is struggling to control a series of terrible rages that have started befalling him.  These rages are making it hard to keep his mind on the serious business of helping people, but oddly enough they never happen while he's by himself.

Let's all try as hard as we can to think what could possibly be upsetting him.  What "outside power" as he puts it could possibly be driving him crazy and unable to focus on doing good?  I've never read these Alpha Flight issues before, so it's entirely possible I'm wrong, but if this doesn't turn out to be over how his girlfriend has turned into a dirty slutty slut getting her slutty slutness all over the place, I'll be amazed. Relieved, but amazed.

The two lovers head off the next day to some property Walter owns on Vancouver Island, to see whether it will work as a base for Alpha Flight. Sure, he hasn't seen it in thirty years, and the locals all say the place is haunted by the nine-times widowed woman who lived there until the '20s, but who believes in ghosts twenty-four hours after their friends fought a hideous demon?

In fairness to Walter, though, it's not a spirit that haunts the house, though that's only because the widow from fifty-five years earlier is still alive. As well as a freakishly long life-span - she wears a gold mask, so its impossible to tell how well she's holding up - it turns out she has a nasty habit of turning her husbands into gold statues. A villainous woman who literally reduces the men she marries into nothing but wealth? How...inevitable.

(She can cloak people in utter darkness as well, apparently entirely so that Byrne can repeat his "Snowblind" joke with thought bubbles in otherwise completely black panels. If you're wondering if the joke works so well when you replace super-punching with a woman attempting to avoid severe psychological damage, the answer is no.)

In conclusion, then: Byrne turns in his most sexist issue yet, and spends so much time laying out said sexism that it takes sixteen pages for the story to start. Then that story is immediately sexist.  Goddamn.


Elizabeth Twoyoungmen notes that only 72 hours ago she was still a college student, which suggests three days have passed since she became Talisman.  The theme of oncoming winter once more appears, but we've dealt with the problems of this idea before.

The story itself straddles two days.


Wednesday 18th to Thursday 19th April, 1984.


X+6Y+48 to X+6Y+49.

Contemporary Events

The police siege of the Libyan Embassy in London is in the second of its eleven days, with WPC Yvonne Fletcher having been shot and killed the morning before by machine-gun fire from the first floor of the Embassy.

Standout Line

"Elizabeth was raised within the whiteman's culture. To her mind -- and rightly so -- there is only one place in history for a Messiah. " - Shaman.

I didn't mention this in the comments, because I wanted to focus on the gender politics, but what exactly is this line supposed to mean? I can't decide whether its a vote for assimilation into majority culture, or just a ridiculous non sequitur.

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